Saturday, November 05, 2005

Rami Khouri on Resolution 1639 and Syria's Woes

Here are two articles by Rami G. Khouri, who just returned from the US, where he spoke with high-ranking officials at the UN and within the US government.

Resolution 1636 increases Syria’s woes

THE UNITED NATIONS, New York: I was at the United Nations in New York Monday when the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1636 demanding Syria’s full cooperation on the investigation of the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, where it was very clear that Syria is in much deeper trouble than it seems to acknowledge. The significance of Monday’s vote is that the United Nations Security Council took the unprecedented step of taking specific action to support an international investigation into the actions of individuals and organization in one country (Syria) related to a capital crime committed in another country (Lebanon).

Bashar Assad and the Syrian government are being squeezed into a diplomatic corner, isolated and pressured politically, and are having their sovereignty slowly whittled away. This important trend was manifested by five key aspects of the resolution: it was adopted unanimously, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter that requires mandatory compliance and authorizes enforcement measures, in the presence of the foreign ministers of most council members, repeatedly affirms a concern about possible Syrian involvement with the Hariri murder terror attack, and demands specific Syrian actions, including detaining officials and individuals who are part of the inner circle of power and are considered as suspects in the attack.

Damascus does not seem to realize that its traditional responses to foreign pressure – delaying, denying, giving in just enough to prevent the worst threats from materializing, pointing out the contradictions between how the world treats Syria and Israel – no longer work. The world is unimpressed, unconvinced and unmoved. It has responded by making Syria the international test case and example of a political dynamic that has heretofore been a purely American enterprise – demanding changes in Arab states’ behavior in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as a means of “draining the swamp” and reducing the threat of extremism and terror from our region.

An intriguing element in the proceedings Monday was the disdainful manner in which the U.S. and U.K. foreign ministers personally criticized Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa after his comments on the resolution. The U.K.’s Jack Straw called the Syrian remarks "grotesque and insensitive" and "at best, absurd," and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later referred to Sharaa's comments as a "really unbelievable tirade" and “a truly strange presentation."

The combination of the political pressure and the aggressive rhetoric against Syria reflect less a genteel diplomatic process and more an exasperated attempt to discipline an unruly adolescent or wayward family member.

The unanimous nature of the resolution also must be seen in the light of another important development that is very clear here at the UN headquarters in New York: in the first year of George W. Bush’s second term, the United States has started to scale back on its unilateral military approach to changing the world after 9/11, and instead is selectively using a much more multilateral approach, anchored in working with the Europeans and through the Security Council.

As such, Resolution 1636 is as much about affirming a legitimate form of international intervention in the internal affairs and external behavior of individual states as it is about addressing the specifics of the Hariri murder investigation. Respected American analysts in Washington who follow these things closely believe that “realists” in the U.S. administration are implementing policies that still aim to achieve the same goals that were first defined by the neoconservatives a few years ago, but on the basis of the lessons of America’s troubles in Iraq.

“We can only do one Iraq at a time, because it’s all-consuming” one respected analyst-columnist told me, “so there is a deal to be done with Syria, where the U.S. wants behavior change, not necessarily regime change.”

The Iraqi link in the Syrian situation is a critical one from the American perspective, as Rice made clear in her remarks at the UN Monday. She specifically singled out Syria’s “…false statements, its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors and its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East. Now the Syrian government must make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior."

Many analysts in Washington seem to agree that the U.S. has limited military options in Syria while it is bogged down in Iraq, does not want to risk chaos in two large Arab countries at once, and is concerned about who might replace Assad should regime change be attempted. This suggests again that a deal is there to be made, whereby the Syrian regime complies with demands to change its regional behavior in return for retaining power inside Syria. This is so especially since Rice and other American officials tend not to stress Syria’s domestic policies, but focus instead on its regional links, to Iraq, Palestinians, Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The steady stream of UN resolutions pressuring Syria will continue, with another one expected soon on Syria’s compliance with previous UN resolutions demanding that it stop interfering in Lebanon. The demands being made on the Syrian president and regime are increasingly difficult for them to meet, but the demands are only getting more severe with each new resolution.

If a deal can be made, its outlines will have to be made clear in the coming six weeks, before the mid-December deadline set by Monday’s resolution. The chances of this happening are good, I suspect, but it will probably require significant internal changes that modify the bases of the Syrian regime’s legitimacy and incumbency, somewhat akin to what Mikhail Gorbachev did in the Soviet Union shortly after he took power.

Why Lebanon and the UN May Transform the Middle East
by Rami G. Khouri

UNITED NATIONS, New York -- Syria and Lebanon have received center-stage attention at the UN Security Council here in New York this week, but the ongoing diplomatic action related to these two countries may well cast its net much further afield in due course. The events we witnessed this week will impact on Syria and Lebanon, but are equally important for four other parties: the United States and its engagement of the world, the credibility and impact of the UN in the Middle East and other regions, the revival of close diplomatic cooperation between the US and its European partners (especially France), and governments and their security agencies throughout the Middle East, who should expect to be held to a higher standard of accountability.

This is my conclusion from discussions this week with knowledgeable diplomats, analysts, and international and American officials here and in Washington, who have been deeply involved in Security Council Resolution 1636 (demanding Syrian compliance with the investigation of the murder of Rafik Hariri) and the UN Secretary-General's follow-up report on Syrian compliance with Resolution 1559.

Just as interesting as their separate analyses is their striking unanimity on the implications behind the current diplomatic effort to pressure Syria and hold accountable anyone proven to have been involved in the Hariri murder. The main thrust of the ongoing diplomatic effort is to force Syrian compliance with the UN-mandated murder investigation headed by Detlev Mehlis, and to let the facts of the investigation and the subsequent court trials lead where the facts take them.

The historical significance of this was succinctly explained to me by Shashi Tharoor, the UN's seasoned Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, who has followed such things for years.

"This is an unprecedented act by the UN," he said, "to appoint an investigator responsible only to the international community, essentially looking into the conduct of governmental agencies or individuals attached to them having committed a capital crime in another state. This is epochal as an event, and also is an important element in the development of the United Nations as an institution that pursues justice around the world."

While stressing that nobody has been convicted, he explains that, "This is an investigation that raises issues, points out possibilities, certainly raises questions and suspicions. At this point nobody has been convicted of anything and we at the UN are not sitting here pointing fingers at any particular individual, government or regime. What we are saying is that it certainly looks like some people who have an association with the government or government agencies in Syria, and people who have an association with some aspects of the government of Lebanon, may be implicated in the assassination of a former prime minister, and that is serious enough."

Other international and American sources who prefer not to be named because of their sensitive positions and involvement in the diplomatic effort stressed the significance of the unanimous 15-0 vote on Resolution 1636 last Monday. The resolution demanded that Syria comply with the UN investigation, and only vaguely mentioned "further action" should Syria not cooperate.

This reflects three key dynamics that may be significant in this and other situations in the Middle East. European, especially French, diplomatic advice, combined with the assertive foreign policy management of Condoleezza Rice, is impacting on Washington's approach to changing the behavior of countries in the Middle East. There is a visible tempering of the previous American attitude, driven by the neo-conservative triumphalists, that "Washington should use diplomatic and military force to clear the decks in the Middle East and let the cards fall where they may," in the words of one source who has been directly involved in international diplomacy in the Middle East for many years. And, the international community is determined to pursue the Hariri murder investigation in a methodical, step-by-step manner -- meaning that the probe will penetrate into those areas in the Syrian governance system that have been identified as leads worth pursuing.

"All the parties seem to have learned the mistakes of Iraq," one international source said, "and in this case they are sequencing and prioritizing moves one step at a time."

An American analyst who has followed the case closely mirrors the views of other sources who said that French and international diplomats repeatedly advised the Americans that achieving unanimity is more important than using strong language in UN resolutions, as 1636 seems to confirm. The diplomatic focus consequently has remained on Lebanon and the Hariri murder investigation. The key aim in the short run is to maintain the impact and credibility of the Mehlis investigation, by keeping it Lebanon-specific, especially as this relates to the desire to question Syrian officials and perhaps others.

Though Washington has tempered its tactics, its end game, or final outcome, remains rather unclear to most analysts and participants in this process. Opinions vary on whether the U.S. would like to bring down the Syrian government, or simply pressure it enough to change its policies on Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine-Israel, Hizbullah and related regional matters, such as ties with Iran and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

An American source explains that Washington seems to have reined in its inclination to change the Syrian regime: "The neo-cons in the government who used to say 'anything is better than Bashar al-Assad' no longer have the upper hand. The diplomatic pressure will continue, but without a clear strategy on where this will lead, either in terms of sanctions, low-cost regime change, or just a change in regime behavior in Damascus."

This is partly explained by the fact that U.S. policy that had been largely driven by Pentagon civilian hawks in recent years is now back in the hands of the State Department; it is also influenced by other factors, such as European engagement, the fallout from Iraq, and President Bush's domestic political troubles.

The shift in American tactics may also betray an intriguing but unproven new angle: that legitimate international diplomatic action against Syrian or other suspects in the Hariri investigation could be an effective route to promoting democratic changes in other parts of the Middle East.

"These UN resolutions suggest to some that Lebanon can be the epicenter of change and democratic transformations in the Middle East," one international diplomat said. He added that is so "especially because Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the Lebanese government have risen to the occasion and done their job."

Where does this leave the Syrian regime? Again, the unanimity among those informed American, European, and international sources I talked to was striking, as they all thought that the government of President Assad faced an existential choice regardless of how it responded to the latest UN resolution. The leadership in Damascus will face trouble if it defies the UN, and it will also have difficulty complying with the demands to allow the Mehlis team to question senior security officials, including members of the Syrian president's family, privately and outside the country.

The consensus seems to be that the Syrians are cornered due to their own mistakes in not responding more clearly, and earlier, to the demands of the international community. Their only feasible response now is seen to be to comply fully with UN demands, which would ultimately exonerate the innocent and hold accountable any individuals whom fair court trials might reveal to be guilty.

UN officials themselves are careful about gauging the implications of current events, while noting their significance. Tharoor explains that Resolution 1636 and the follow-up to 1559 "are sui generis, cases that stand by themselves, but the UN is an organization where precedents are always noticed. The history of the UN shows that when something has been done once, it obviously echoes throughout the region."

Could these and other relevant UN actions in the Middle East and abroad be interpreted as implying a renewed level of UN engagement with the problems of the ME?

"I would like to think so," Tharoor says. "I think the Security Council has shown that it understands the importance of this region and it realizes that the problems that have arisen require sustained and serious attention. Those of us who have been worried about the Security Council's failure to act more decisively on other issues in the area can take heart from this process, because it suggests that this is something they can build upon. The precedent-setting nature of decisions in the Council suggests a more than interesting constellation of events."

Indeed, a terror attack and mass murder in Lebanon have triggered an international investigation and a strong diplomatic consensus on an expected political response by the Syrian government. The reverberations of all this may well move to other parts of this region in due course. Keep watching Lebanon with one eye, and the rest of the Middle East with the other.

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, published throughout the Middle East with the International Herald Tribune.


At 11/05/2005 08:14:00 AM, Blogger ForFreedomOfExpression said...

The Syrian Ambassador to the UAE, Riad Na'san Agha asserted that it was indeed the Mossad that killed Hariri.
The program also featured Josh Landis.

At 11/05/2005 08:44:00 AM, Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Rami Khûry often sounds like some fervent Trotskyite/Neocon propagandist on a mission for the Pentagon…and I’m afraid his latest US-sponsored blurbs are no exception!
From Baghdad to Damascus and Buenos Aires, it’s just the same sad story: the President and his Neocon friends have no one to reason them…

In the early 1960’s a young Columbian journalist named G. Garcia Marquez wrote “The Colonel Has No One to Write Him” the poetic tale of a failed leader who goes each Friday to the same post office to see if a long-awaited letter bringing some good news has finally arrived.

This novel was to become a great classic amongst Latin America’s famed “poetic magic” literary school…and a highly prescient metaphor for Dubya’s pathetic presidency!

The man they call “El Jorge” south of the Rio Grande (who once said “Mi Casa Blanca es tu Casa Blanca” in an outlandish bid to gratify Hispanic voters) was in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on Friday to attend the opening session of the “hemispheric” Summit of the Americas: he was greeted by tens of thousands of angry Argentines who chanted "Get out, Bush!" and "You are the terrorist!" among other niceties…

By evening, massive riots were reported in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, where students and workers set fire to several McDonald's restaurants.

"It is not easy to host all these countries at the same time" said Bush as he appeared before reporters after their morning meeting. "It's particularly not easy to host, perhaps, me!" [sic/sick]

Eternally Yours in Liberty,

Dr Victorino de la Vega
Chair of the Thomas More Center for Middle East Studies

At 11/05/2005 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

After all, the news given by Elaph about the release of Dr. Abdel Aziz Al Kheir was not true!

Those members of the Assad family have never had any conscience and do not feel as any other human being. No human being on this planet is devoid of any sense of humanity as those governing Syria for the past 35 years. It is starnge, but they are truly savages and illogical. The Assads belong to a special species that is truly despicable.

Even when they are subject to a possible revrerse of fortune, they still feel the hatred against their own people and can not feel the pain of other human beings!


At 11/05/2005 04:53:00 PM, Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

“No human being on this planet is devoid of any sense of humanity as those governing Syria for the past 35 years”

That’s a bit hyperbolic dude: check out any OECD cum Human Rights Watch survey of the Middle East and North Africa (not to mention Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa!) , and you’ll see for yourself the Syrian regime isn’t very much below its LOCAL PEERS in terms of GDP per capita, literacy, women’s rights, healthcare, political participation “democratic” or otherwise…

Plus why do you say 35 years, and not say 39 years?
The situation was clearly MUCH worse between 1966 and 1970!

At 11/05/2005 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

No Sir, the situation was bad, and that was because of Hafez Assad himself who was creating his Sectarian special forces and defying all laws in the country between 1967 1nd 1970. He and his f.. brother Rifaat!

Syria was never like any other Arab country. Syria was the symbol of integration and the great pride of its people in its abilities and courage. It was Assad who was the real power between 1967 and 1970. It was a shared power, but he and his brother were the ones creating all the problems and then they came to "correct".

At 11/05/2005 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Syrians Unite said...

Support Syrian people who are caught in the middle! Check the new Friends of Syria website and sign the list.

At 11/05/2005 06:11:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Everyone keeps wasting their time discussing the past. Has the Syrian regime been THE worst or just as bad as others on some International surveys. Enough please. To imply or suggest that this regime is as bad as others around it and therefore deserves to stay in power for any longer is absurd. I don't care about others. Syria's leadership has been an absolute debacle on every single count. I would love to hear from anyone of you about one single achievement that this regime can be proud of. I CHALLENGE ANYONE TO NAME ONE. It is time (as I have been saying for a while) to start thinking about post Bashar and this diabolical Baath party which has to rank amongst the biggest political failures in the history of politics. Never has an idiology been so refuted and rejected by the course of history. This regime and the party have outlived their time and their relevence. Stop wasting your time. These guys are done. Time to think about the future and how this great nation can start to live up to its potential again

At 11/05/2005 08:32:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I would love to beleive that these guys are done.

I think there is a very long road between the situation now and the collapse of the regime.

Saddam was able to hold on to power after losing a war to the US, having no-fly zones, embargo, an armed kurdish resistance that controlled chunks of the country. He was in power until the first US soldiers entered Baghdad.

I suspect our Dktor does not have the stamina to do a Saddam, but he can hang on for much longer, and cut many deals that will get him out of this.

If we want our country to be free we have to think about how to get rid of this gov.

At 11/06/2005 09:18:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

I read the Syrian Ambassador to the UAE, Riad Na'san Agha’s interview and it looks like he is still repeating the same sentence: “Syria is the most damaged from the assassination of Hariri”. He should ask himself several questions. 1. Who would have been the most beneficial from the Hariri assassination if the Lebanese stayed home and did not demonstrate demanding the truth? 2. Who had the motive to Kill Hariri? 3. Who had threatened Hariri several times? If the Syrian regime really thinks that their mafia members are not involved in the killing, they should have cooperated with the investigation and did not try to cover up the crime including the crime scene and the evidence! Why Syria is not providing Mehlis with the documents that he had requested from them?

If Syria really loves the Palestinians as the Ambassador said in his interview, then why there are still 1,500 Palestinians (most were arrested more than 10 years ago) in Syrian jails, 20 of them were released yesterday?

How dare the stupid parrot (the Syrian Ambassador to the UAE, Riad Na'san Agha’) says that Hariri was Syria’s silent ally when Bashar told him in the famous meeting that I have know you just recently and Ghazalah says stuff to Hariri that shows how low is the Syrian regime!

Sooner or later we will know the truth and the killers will be found and will face justice.

At 11/06/2005 10:12:00 AM, Blogger Gina said...

3 can keep a secret,
if 2 are dead.


At 11/06/2005 01:08:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Dear Dr. Landis,

May I suggest a topic for discussion on your Blog. Why don't you post a story to discuss the following:

"The performance and historical record of the Baath party over the past 40 years".

At 11/06/2005 03:03:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

The performance and historical record of the Baath Party? None but disasters, fights between countries, dictatorships, problems and interference in neighboring countries, more poor people!

At 11/06/2005 04:18:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

Labwani is a respectable opponent and the near future will prove us if he was right or not.A debate-dialogue between the syrian opposition and the american government should take place and Labwani has broken a taboo.

At 11/06/2005 04:39:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

After all, the news given by Elaph about the release of Dr. Abdel Aziz Al Kheir was not true!

are u sure?

At 11/06/2005 09:15:00 PM, Blogger Secular Syrian said...

"...Lebanon can be the epicenter of change and democratic transformations in the Middle East..."

No way. Because of historical legitimacy, political/social/cultural heritage, and size of population, there are only 3 countries which could possibly serve as the "epicenter of democratic transformations in the Middle East": Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.

The other modern Arab countries, including Lebanon, are accidents of history. No matter how successful they become, they are footnotes.

Let's consider each of the big 3. Egypt? They were given the right to vote and endorsed a cleptocratic status quo. The West doesn't seem to get that the Arabs don't want reform as much as the West wants Arabs to want reform.

Iraq? valid concept, horrible execution.

That leaves Syria. I guess we'll find out. Some mistakes to watch out for (western analysts take note): assuming that Syrian people are liberals, thinking that Syrians don't really care about regaining the Golan, projecting Western desire for Arab reform on Syrians (see Egypt comment).

At 11/06/2005 09:40:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

So what path do you (secular syrian) suggest? What is the solution for syria now that you stated the "mistakes"?

At 11/06/2005 11:38:00 PM, Blogger DamasceneBlood said...

I don't know what path we should take, but I know which path the regime will take: The Baathists will let go of the Golan, will have full normal relations with Israel, will kick out the Palestinians, and will kill every last Syrian before they let go of their throne. That's how bad it is. They will hold on to power with teeth, nails, and clinched fists like a person holding for dear life.

And you think they will just go away? fat chance. Just look at Lahoud in Lebanon: isolated, lame-duck, irrelevant, yet he won't back down.

At 11/07/2005 12:52:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

Fully agreed with DamasceneBlood. Unfortunatly, I think this is the most probable course of action, given that neither the international 'community' nor the Syrian 'government' give a shilling about the ordinary Syrian.

If we want to get rid of this regime we have to do it ourselves.

At 11/07/2005 04:00:00 AM, Blogger Lebanon Divided said...

What would happen if Syrians went to the street and asked for the resignation of Assad... say 5,000 people demonstrate, what would happen? Will the police shoot them down, will it arrest them for weeks?

At 11/07/2005 04:57:00 AM, Blogger siriano said...

Let us thing big guys!!
We have to follow the globalization either with our outstanding system in Syria "which has to be reformed in case they surrvive" or with others (without involving any islamic party).

There is no way out for us.

At 11/07/2005 05:20:00 AM, Blogger Secular Syrian said...

Ehsani2, to answer your previous question about the solution, I think it would involve leaving the current regime intact with continued pressure from the West to enforce good behavior, but definitely give them a way to save face.

They probably don't deserve it, but the more they are under siege, the more Syrians will feel targeted and galvanise behind the regime. "I'm with my brother against my cousin, and I'm with my cousin against..."

However, they would have to lift some of the emergency laws and most importantly, create a balance-of-power by allowing free multi-party parliamentary elections that actually matter and hold clout.

Of course, liberlise the economy. If Bashar brought McDonalds to Syria tomorrow, that would buy him another 5 years of good-will from young Syrians.


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